All Saints Lutheran Church

4325 SW Green Oaks Blvd
Arlington, TX 76017

Office: 817-483-1631

CLC: 817-483-6692

Fax: 817-483-8731

Email: office@allsaintsarlington.org

URL: http://allsaintsarlington.org/

Services:

Traditional: 8:45 AM

Contemporary: 11:00 AM

A picture of All Saints Lutheran Church The All Saints Logo

Membership – What and When?

Dear friends,

We offer membership classes at All Saints twice a year, in the fall and spring. Membership in a particular Christian congregation is an interesting phenomenon… Traditionally, it was a prerequisite for basic participation in milestones of Christian faith and life, such as baptism of a child, confirmation, partaking of Holy Communion, being married in the church, or Christian burial. In recent decades, some church bodies have construed membership not as an initial point of entry into the life of the congregation, but a point of deep commitment, undertaken only when fully immersed in the life and leadership of the congregation. Some consider membership essential to their Christian identity, and others consider “signing on the dotted line” of membership completely irrelevant to their life of faith. While there is no single Scriptural position on formal membership in a local church congregation, I offer here some reflections on membership and how it can benefit our life together as Christians and as All Saints Lutheran Church.

First, what does the Bible say?

The Bible doesn’t talk about membership in a local Christian congregation, though it occasionally mentions people who are “members” of a synagogue, from which many of our congregational customs are derived. More important in Scripture is the idea that all Christians are “members” of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12–13 reads, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” From Scripture we learn that we cannot function by ourselves as individual free agents, independent of the rest of the Church, which is Christ’s body. This would be akin to an elbow deciding that it doesn’t need to be connected to an arm in order to function as intended! Our very nature, as baptized children of God – according to Scripture, is that we would be connected to God’s people, who are connected to the “head,” which is Christ.

Second, how does our Biblical worldview inform us?

God has a habit of doing his work in our world through ordinary physical means: Jesus comes in the flesh to give his life for us – suffering in the flesh on a Roman cross – in order that we might be forgiven and made right before God. Just as the (very physical) rite of circumcision set apart God’s people in the Old Testament, so baptism accomplishes this purpose in Jesus’ new covenant, connecting us to Jesus’ death and resurrection and claiming us as his children. God’s word is combined with ordinary water to accomplish this miracle. Then Jesus gives his true body and blood to us in Holy Communion, so that when we are taught that we are the body of Christ, we understand that we have indeed partaken of his body, and participated together in a tangible way with his passion and resurrection. All of this supports a Christian faith in which belief is undergirded by physical actions and tangible stuff. God works faith through his word in the context of this physical world he has created. Therefore it is consistent with our biblical worldview that our membership in the invisible Church around the world, granted to us at baptism, would take tangible and practical shape in the context of an actual, physical congregation in which we can receive God’s Word and Sacrament, following Jesus as disciples together.

Third, what are some practical reasons for membership?

Of course, entering into a membership agreement with a congregation doesn’t make you a Christian. It doesn’t even make you a better Christian. Only faith in Jesus Christ, freely given by the Holy Spirit, makes you a Christian. But as soon as we look at the life to which that faith calls us, it begins with baptism. And baptism, as we have seen, immediately connects us, and calls us to nurture connection with, a local church.

  1. Becoming a member of a local congregation is actually an affirmation of baptism… It is affirming that God’s saving work through Jesus Christ has been applied, by faith, in your life at baptism; and that you are now called by God to live out that faith in the context of a particular local community. In fact, the rite of Confirmation – typically part of the 8th grade faith journey – is technically called “Affirmation of Baptism.” At this point, our Confirmands have full rights and responsibilities as voting members at All Saints. Our new members’ course essentially brings any additional adults up to speed with our confirmands, ensuring that the same faith is present and affirmed as you formally enter this community of faith. So practically speaking, membership is an outworking of Confirmation, which is itself a response to God’s grace in baptism.
  2. A local congregation needs members to exist: The other practical application is that membership is part of the legal identity of All Saints. In order to be an official organization, one that is allowed to receive tax-exempt donations and disburse for operations and for missions, there must be officers of the church. And the way we’re set up, the members of All Saints are responsible to elect these officers. So responsibility for the direction of All Saints is part of membership. If God has called you to be a part of this community, membership permits you to participate in this essential part of its existence.

Fourth, what are some incorrect reasons for pursuing membership?

  1. You want to be eligible for the spiritual services offered by All Saints – Truth is, we don’t limit participation in God’s gifts of grace to members only. At All Saints baptism of young children is a matter of the parents’ commitment to raise their child in faith, in the context of a local church. Baptism of older children or adults is a matter of their affirmation of faith and desire to live out the promises made at baptism. Membership is encouraged, but is not a prerequisite. We admit all baptized believers to Holy Communion who share our trust in God’s promise. Confirmation will result in the student becoming a member of All Saints, but parents are not required to be members for their kids to be confirmed. So we hope that participation in any of these things will help you recognize your need for membership in a local church, but they are not prerequisites.
  2. You need a place to get married – Weddings are less expensive for members, but it’s much easier to rent a wedding chapel than to go through the process of joining All Saints, making a commitment of faith, time, and treasure, and completing the required pre-marital counseling if all you really want is a wedding ceremony! If you want to get married at All Saints, our hope is that you will discover yet another dimension of the joy of covenant commitment between God and his people in marriage, which is a reflection of Jesus’ love for the Church. So marriage at All Saints is far more than just a pretty space and a special day!
  3. You want to make sure that you’re going to heaven – See above… Membership doesn’t make you a Christian. It’s an expression of your faith, not what saves you! Only Jesus saves – our trust is in him, and our confidence is in his death and resurrection on our behalf, so that we might come to believe and be restored to relationship with God.
  4. You want to exercise power and influence – Jesus teaches that whoever wishes to be the greatest must be servant of all. As members of the body of Christ, our opportunities to serve increase. The emphasis is not on power and influence, but on obedience to Christ and service to others!

Fifth, is it the right time?

Membership is a way that we live out our baptism, and thus our new identity as members of the Body of Christ, fully embracing the responsibility and mutual accountability that comes with that identity. It’s a serious decision. So before joining, you should:

  • Learn – Do you understand what All Saints teaches, and what we’re all about? (The new members’ course is a great way to explore that, even if you don’t end up joining!)
  • Pray – Ask God if this is the local congregation to which he has called you. If it is, then what are you waiting for? If not, then where IS he calling you? It’s important that you be where God wants you to be, and rest assured that we will still love and care for you in this community of faith for as long as it takes you to figure that out.
  • Decide – Are you willing to participate not only in All Saints’ worship, but by God’s grace to grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ? After all, that is our mission!

If and when you have satisfied these questions, I encourage you to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and become an official member of All Saints. It’s the practical way in which we express our biblical and practical understanding of God’s work in our lives through baptism, bringing us into the Body of Christ in a real and tangible manner. But if you are still working through these questions, please do not hurry, and do not feel pressured. You are always welcome here, as a part of our worship and our service. We are glad to come alongside you on your journey of faith, and support you as you seek to follow Jesus!

Thanks, and God bless,

Pastor John L. Scheusner

All Saints Lutheran Church